google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Thursday with Tabitha - Joel

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Joel

This is our penultimate podcast in the minor prophets series! This week we are looking at the book of Joel. I had some degree of dilemma about where to place Joel in the roughly chronological order of the series and that’s because the estimates of when the book was written vary widely from the 9th to 4th century BC. After looking at the content of Joel’s prophecies, I decided to go with the scholars who argue that Joel was written after the exile to Babylon, dating it somewhere around the year 500 BC. Joel evidently has knowledge of Judah and Jerusalem and it seems likely that he was from Judah himself. His name means “Yahweh is God” and we are told that his father was called Pethuel. Other than that, we know little about Joel himself.

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Joel is similar in style to several of the other minor prophetic books, being written in the form of oracles of judgement and salvation, mostly in poetic style. Joel appears to have written during a time of national calamity for Judah. Key themes of his book are the Day of the Lord, the need to repent, the promise of God that he will dwell in the midst of his people, and the future promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

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Chapter one contains a vivid description of the invasion of the land of Judah by a locust swarm. Locusts are grasshoppers that breed very rapidly and fly in swarms when their population density is high enough. They can migrate large distances when in a swarm and they consume vast amounts of vegetation when they land. A swarm of locusts is a potential disaster for any farmer as it can decimate crops and vineyards, leaving virtually nothing behind.

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Joel describes exactly this sort of devastation in chapter 1 verses 1-12. Everything is laid bare, even the bark of the trees is stripped. The priests of Judah are instructed to lament and fast because they can no longer offer the proper sacrifices at the temple because all the grain, wine and oil are gone. The animals are suffering from lack of food and verses 19-20 indicate that there is also a drought occurring at the same time. Joel’s prophecy warns the people that the Day of the Lord is near. This could refer to the immediate day of the locust invasion, or to a future day of God’s judgement on the nations, or perhaps to both.

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Just when it seems that things couldn’t get worse, chapter 2 reveals that it can get much worse! The second chapter contains a terrifying description of an invading army, marching unstoppably across Judah. There are a number of opinions about the nature of this army: some believe that Joel is still describing the locusts, using more graphic imagery; others say that Joel is describing a human army invading Judah; or a third interpretation is that the army described is the Lord’s army, coming to judge the world on the Day of the Lord in an epic final conflict. Whichever is the case, this army is fearsome, purposeful and not hindered by any obstacle. Joel also describes other apocalyptic signs, which are found in other parts of the Bible when describing the Day of the Lord: the sun, moon and stars are dimmed and the earth is shaken.

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Yet, even in spite of this predicted calamity, it is not too late. In chapter 2:12-17 God calls his people to repentance and entreats them to return to him. Joel describes God as a God of mercy and grace, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God desires to see real change in the hearts and souls of his people, not just outward signs of repentance (like the tearing of clothes), but a genuine change of heart.

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“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13)

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The priests are urged to consecrate the whole congregation, even including little babies and newly weds. No one is exempt.

In response to the people’s repentance, God promises to restore Judah again, refilling the wine and oil vats and replenishing the threshing floors. God has judged his people but he has also brought deliverance and restoration to them. In chapter 2 verses 28-29 we find a prophecy about the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

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“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)

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We see this prophecy fulfilled after Jesus’ death and resurrection when God pours out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter quotes from this section in his speech to the crowd on the day of Pentecost – you can find this in Acts 2.

Just after this prophecy in Joel, we find the declaration that in those days,

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“…everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

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Paul quotes this in Romans 10:13 in his explanation of the universal availability of God’s salvation to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus, regardless of their ethnic background or previous religious credentials, or lack of them.

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In chapter 3 God promises that he will judge the nations and restore the fortunes of his people. He will dwell in the midst of his people and be a source of security and refuge in the midst of the judgement to come.

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Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. (Joel 3:14-16)

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The picture is one of great contrasts. As in other prophetic books, like Zephaniah, the Day of the Lord brings judgement and fear to some and relief and restoration for others.

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What messages can we take from the book of Joel today?

Firstly, we can celebrate the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all believers, both young and old, men and women. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us - to help us, equip us, guide us and comfort us. In the early church, one of the things that helped to convince the Jewish believers that the Gentiles were also welcomed into God’s kingdom was the clear evidence of the dramatic work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Salvation is indeed available to all people, to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

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I was particularly struck by God’s plea for the people to rend their hearts, not their garments. This reminds me of David’s prayer in Psalm 51:

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

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We can be so easily taken in by outward appearances, and we can spend a lot of time cultivating our outward appearance to portray the right image to the world around us, or to our fellow believers. But God is interested in the states of our hearts. He sees the real you and the real me, all of the time.

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When David was being chosen from the sons of Jesse to be anointed by Samuel, the prophet declared that:

 

…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

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David came to know this truth very deeply for himself. He tried to hide lies and adultery and murder from other people but he could not hide from God.

We may also try to hide the parts of our lives, or the aspects of our character that we are embarrassed or ashamed about, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. Nothing is hidden from his sight. As our loving Father, he longs for us to acknowledge these things before him and rend our hearts in response. Nothing will come as a surprise to him - he already knows!

We can try all sorts of things to fix our own hearts and we can sometimes convince ourselves we’ve done quite a good patching up job. But in truth, only God can perform the heart transplant we need. He is the one who can renew our hearts and clean us from the inside out. And his invitation stands open to anyone who would call on his name. So we can pray along with David:

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Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

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Join me next week as we look at the final book in our series – Malachi - the last recorded prophetic voice before John the Baptist!

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